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Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny

Opera in three acts.

Text by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

Performance Information
Synopsis
Recordings
Press Clippings
Kim H. Kowalke, "Building Mahagonny: Some Guidelines"
Kim H. Kowalke, "Mahagonny: Einige Richtlinien"

photo from performance of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny

Scene from original production, Leipzig, 1930.

Performance Information

English title: Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
Cast: Leokadja Begbick (mezzo-soprano), Fatty (tenor), Trinity Moses (baritone), Jenny Hill (soprano), Jimmy Mahoney (tenor), Jack O'Brien (tenor), Bill (baritone), Joe (bass), Tobby Higgins (tenor), Chorus of six girls and the men of Mahagonny.
Orchestra: 2 (2 picc).1.1.sop. sax, alto sax, tenor sax.2 (cbn); 2.3.2.1; piano, harmonium ad lib., banjo, bass guitar, bandoneon, timp, perc; strings
Stage orchestra - 2 Fl (2 picc), 2 cl, 3 sax (sop., alto, ten.) 2 bn; 2.2.2.1; piano, zither or xylophone, banjo, bandoneon, perc.; 3 vn.
Duration: full evening
Published Editions: libretto, Universal Edition, UE 9852
revised piano-vocal score (David Drew, 1969), Universal Edition, UE 9851
revised piano-vocal score reflecting performance options (2012), Universal Edition, UE 35 318
Performance Rights and Rentals: USA, UK, BREV: EAMC
All other territories: UE
Authorized Translations: English -- David Drew & Michael Geliot; Arnold Weinstein & Lys Symonette; Michael Feingold
French -- Jean-Claude Hémery & Geneviève Serrau
Italian -- Fedele d'Amico
First production: March 9, 1930, Leipzig, Städtisches Theater, Walter Brügmann, dir., Gustav Brecher, cond.

Guide to orchestration, territory abbreviations, and publishers' symbols.

Synopsis

Act I

Somewhere in America. Three criminals on the lam--Fatty, Trinity Moses, and the Widow Begbick--are stranded in the desert after their truck breaks down. Begbick decrees that they will found a city called Mahagonny, a utopia of pleasure and idleness, but really a snare and a money pit ("Aber dieses ganze Mahagonny"). The city grows quickly, soon populated by prostitutes, led by Jenny ("Alabama Song"), and dissatisfied bourgeoisie ("Wir wohnen in den Städten"). Then a group of lumberjacks arrives from Alaska ("Auf nach Mahagonny"), lured by the city's reputation. Begbick welcomes them as they introduce themselves ("Wenn man an einen fremden Strand kommt"): Jim (the leader), Bill, Jack, and Joe. She brings on the girls and the lumberjacks bargain for them ("Ach, bedenken Sie"). Jenny winds up with Jim ("Ich habe gelernt"). Begbick and her partners lament their inadequate income and decide to pack up and leave ("Ach dieses Mahagonny"), but they change their minds when more suckers arrive. Jim and the lumberjacks are also dissatisfied because there is not enough action ("Wunderbar ist das Heraufkommen des Abends"). A pianist plays "The Maiden’s Prayer" in a hotel lobby, prompting Jim to continue his lament ("Tief in Alaskas schneeweissen Wäldern"). Then a hurricane approaches the city and everyone cowers in fear ("O furchtbares Ereignis") except Jim, who takes advantage of the impending catastrophe to declare that henceforth nothing will be prohibited in Mahagonny ("Wenn es etwas gibt").

Act II

Mahagonny is inexplicably unharmed by the hurricane ("O wunderbare Lösung"), and the inhabitants resume their revels ("Erstens, vergesst nicht kommt das Fressen"). A series of tableaux follows: eating, sex, boxing, and drinking. Jack eats himself to death ("Jetzt hab' ich gegessen zwei Kälber"), the men of Mahagonny line up for the prostitutes ("Mandalay Song"), and Joe dies in a boxing match with Trinity Moses ("Wir, meine Herren"). Jim invites everyone for a round of drinks ("Freunde, kommt, ich lade euch ein"), but he tells Jenny that he is out of money when the bill comes. He proposes that they escape to Alaska together, and the crowd enacts a voyage inside the bar. Then Jim admits to Begbick that he cannot pay, and he is bound and thrown into prison. When Begbick asks Jenny if she will pay for Jim, she disavows all responsibility ("Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man"). The chorus intones an ominous warning for Jim ("Lasst euch nicht verführen").

Act III

Jim languishes in prison, awaiting his trial the next morning ("Wenn der Himmel hell wird"). When court convenes ("Haben alle Zuschauer Billette?"), a murderer is freed before Jim's trial. Jim appeals to his last remaining friend, Bill, for money, but Bill refuses. Fatty, Moses, and Begbick convict Jim summarily on numerous charges, but he is condemned to death because he failed to pay his bar tab ("Jetzt kommt der Hauptpunkt der Anklage"). Jenny and others complain that they have nowhere else to go ("Benares Song"). Jim is executed, and the remaining residents lapse further into discontent ("An einem grauen Vormittag"). First Begbick, then all the others, display protest placards with contradictory slogans ("Können einem toten Mann nicht helfen"), and it is clear that the city of Mahagonny will not survive.

Note: For commentary on act divisions and the placement of the optional "Kraniche-Duett" (Crane Duet) for Jenny and Jim, see "Building Mahagonny: Some Guidelines."

Recordings

CBS Masterworks M2K 37874 (reissued as Sony Classical
SM2K 91184;
Membran International 223250-311; Line 5.00959)
Lotte Lenya, Heinz Sauerbaum, Gisela Litz, North German Radio Chorus, Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg, cond. [arrangement]
Capriccio CD 10 160-61 (reissued on Capriccio C7184) Anja Silja, Anny Schlemm, Wolfgang Neumann, Kölner Rundfunkorchester, Jan Latham-König, cond.
Video (VHS) Kultur 2078
(DVD) Kultur D2078
Catherine Malfitano, Gwyneth Jones, Jerry Hadley, Radio Symphonieorchester Wien, Dennis Russell Davies, cond., Peter Zadek, stage dir., Brian Large, video dir. (Salzburg Festival)
Video (DVD) EuroArts 2056258 Audra McDonald, Anthony Dean Griffey, Patti LuPone, Los Angeles Opera, James Conlon, cond., John Doyle, stage dir. (English translation by Michael Feingold)
Video (DVD) Metropolitan Opera 811357013359 Teresa Stratas, Richard Cassilly, Astrid Varnay, Metropolitan Opera, James Levine, cond., John Dexter, stage dir. (English translation by David Drew and Michael Geliot)
Video (DVD) Bel Air Classiques BAC 067 Measha Brueggergosman, Michael König, Jane Henschel, Teatro Real Madrid, La Fura dels Baus, Pablo Heras-Casado, cond., Alex Ollé and Carlus Padrissa, stage dirs., (English translation by Michael Feingold)

Press Clippings

"One of the masterpieces of the 20th-century lyric theater, with ironically sentimental music that with all its sweetness and bitterness will stay with you as long as you live . . . . The music is fantastic. Erotic, melodic, childlike and yet sinister, it has a musical innocence, and charms as potent and as poignant as poisoned chocolates . . . . It is beautiful, and lingers, lingers and lingers."
--New York Times, 1970

"A work which is as arresting dramatically as it is musically . . . . Like Weill's score, the text and lyrics of Bertolt Brecht are ageless and will remain so as long as there are societies where justice can be corrupted, where love can be bought, and where half the people feast while the other half starve . . . . Few works concerned with this theme of what man does to man have found so compelling and strident a voice as Mahagonny."
--Dallas Morning News, 1979

"One of the most important stage works of this century, and one which grows more relevant every day."
--Daily News, 1979

"Vivid, irresistible music . . . . It is, truly, a work like none other . . . the most slashing, gorgeously aimed satire that has ever been put on a stage."
--Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 1989

"Music that in even a halfway-decent performance gets under one's skin, sets the scalp tingling and the blood coursing."
--Observer, 1989

"Weill's score [is] filled with some of the most sublime melodies from the whole operatic repertoire."
--Evening Standard, 1995

"Weill's music, written nearly 70 years ago, is still as thrilling and incisive as ever."
--Morning Star, 1995

"[Mahagonny] shows us our own dog-eat-dog human disregard and communal greed. What could be more timely? . . . . [A] powerful and unforgettable score."
--Boston Phoenix, 2007

"The work is strong social satire and even stronger social medicine . . . . Weill takes what he needs musically from wherever he feels appropriate; Bach and the cabaret are equally useful for conveying the depths of the human condition and those to which we can sink . . . . Brecht's text penetrates society's ills like a drill into hard soil."
--Los Angeles Times, 2007

"The story of Mahagonny remains as tough and cynical as ever . . . . Weill's music, though mostly stern and rigorous, has stretches of plaintive lyricism and searching harmony. Weill softens the anticapitalist screed in Brecht's text and humanizes the characters."
--New York Times, 2008

"The work's tunefully truculent critique of capitalist culture has lost none of its relevance--in fact . . . the opera's subject matter may be more timely than ever. . . . Weill's score is a remarkable balancing act that melds the ancient and modern, the classical and the popular, from Bach to cabaret, from Mahler to the foxtrot. The unity of its disunity is extraordinary."
--Boston Globe, 2008

"Mahagonny has a particularly strong resonance in Europe at the moment. Money institutions tremble, and capitalist paradises look endangered. Brecht and Weill's subversive critique of a society where money, sex and alcohol are prime has rarely seemed more coruscating."
--Opera News, 2011

"Few operas elicit anger like Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's still-ferocious 1930 satire Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. And few times like the present seem so appropriate for the work's coruscating attack on a culture of endless consumption, a world in which having no money is the most serious crime of all . . . . Its lessons are not just American ones: they bear repeating everywhere there is income inequality, austerity, deregulation or Black Friday sales. Highlighting its lessons makes the opera seem didactic, while Brecht and Weill's essential masterpiece is anything but. It is as funny and as sad as it is furious, and packs its punch in a rich score . . . that transitions with devilish ease from chorale to fox trot. It is, in sum, a grand entertainment as well as a sobering mirror."
--New York Times, 2013